The decision impacts the country’s two power plants that still operate predominantly on coal.
The Israel Electric Corporation must immediately slash the amount of coal used for electricity generation by 15 percent at all power plants, National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz ordered on Tuesday.

In practice, the decision impacts the country’s two power plants that still operate predominantly on coal: the Orot Rabin station in Hadera and the Rutenberg station in Ashkelon.

The IEC must cut its coal use at these power plants by 15%, substituting the coal with natural gas, until the company has installed scrubbers – devices used to clean exhaust fumes – at its stations.

“This decision, which will be implemented beginning this Friday, will enable a significant change in electricity production while reducing air pollution, increasing demand for natural gas – which is less polluting – while maintaining energy security for the State of Israel,” Steinitz said.

“Our decision to reduce the use of coal to a minimum allows for substantial backup for electricity production in emergency situations or malfunctions for Israel’s electricity sector.”

Steinitz’s order was accompanied by three operational conditions, including a demand that coal units continue to function at the minimum level required to ensure seamless integration in case of power failures, according to the Energy Ministry.

A second condition tasks the Public Utility Authority with reevaluating the consumer tariff rates for the country’s electricity mix, as more electricity is generated from natural gas than coal sources. Due to the fact that costs associated with coal are lower than those with gas, the PUA may decide to raise electricity tariffs by about 1.5%, the ministry said.

The third and final condition linked to Steinitz’s order stresses that if a state of emergency is declared in the electricity sector, the limits regarding coal usage would cease to apply until the end of those circumstances.

The decision comes about two weeks after the Environmental Protection Ministry likewise ordered that the IEC cut down on its coal use – specifically demanding a reduction in coal consumption by about 8-10% at the Orot Rabin power station in 2016.

At the time, the Environment Ministry said it is issuing this order as a condition for approving a company request to further postpone final scrubber installations. In that directive, the ministry said it is requiring the IEC to reduce coal use both to meet European directives and to ensure that emissions levels do not surpass those generated by units equipped with scrubbers.

On Tuesday, Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay applauded Steinitz’s decision to widen the scope of the restrictions.

“We praise the Energy Ministry’s decision and will continue to work in the future toward reducing the pollution from coal stations,” Gabbay said.

In response to the order, a statement from the IEC said that “the company is studying the decision and will act according to the minister’s guidelines.”